Public engagement in theory and practise

Tuesday saw me both practising and preaching public engagement – I talked to about a hundred 15 year olds about nanotechnology in Sheffield in the morning, and then scooted to London to make a guest appearance in front of the Science and Society Strategy Panel of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the body which doles out research funding on behalf of the UK government for those bits of biological science which are not directly clinically relevant. This panel represents the BBSRC’s first attempt to incorporate public engagement in their strategy setting; given the recent history of biotechnology in the UK it’s not surprising that many of the panel are veterans (from both sides) of the GM wars.

This is a relatively new committee, and they are still working out how their deliberations might actually have tangible impacts. The meeting had a wide-ranging discussion about the practicalities and realities of public engagement; one piece of work that they have recently commissioned, on public attitudes to ageing research, will interest transhumanists and life extension enthusiasts. Details will have to wait until the report, and the committee’s response to it, have been made public.